Highlights from Bob Backlund’s Book: Part 4 (Bruno and Mascaras)

After a bit of a hiatus, the review of Bob Backlund’s 2015 autobiography finally resumes!

At a lot of the hotels and motels where we stayed, Andre had a great deal of trouble getting a comfortable night’s sleep or even taking a hot shower in the little tub/shower combos that those places had—so he preferred to just stay up most of the night drinking.

I will never get tired of Andre the Giant drinking stories and it is one of those things where I don’t care if they are 100% accurate. Legends and myths are often more entertaining than the truth and it’s not like something to do with Andre would break open a Watergate. Though the mother of a friend of mine had met Andre in the 1970s, and that story turned out to not be much of anything. Oh well.

To be honest, though, it was difficult. Unlike in Amarillo, Florida, Georgia, and St. Louis, where the talent pools had been so incredibly rich, back in 1977, the WWWF roster was noticeably sparse on talent—and particularly heel talent.

That is an interesting observation by Backlund and I wonder why that would be the case. Because it was New York and big markets, the money wasn’t as big of an issue. It wasn’t because of the champion being a heel in 1977 because most other places used that format. It might generally be WWWF’s reputation for being a “babyface territory” that kept noted heels away.

The WWWF looked tired and old, and the NWA had it all over the WWWF at that time. I think that was definitely one of the things that Vince Sr. was looking to change.

It didn’t help all that much that Vince Sr. didn’t have the most exciting TV show, running very few angles and feature matches. There isn’t so much WWWF footage on YouTube from the mid-1970s, likely because there isn’t much of a demand for it. Vince Sr. was also so risk averse to the point where it’s incredible that he had a son remotely like Vincent K. McMahon. Senior had to be talked into doing the Bruno/Larry angle!

One of the buildings I enjoyed most on the old WWWF house show circuit was the old Worcester Memorial Auditorium, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

That building still stands in Worcester and was built in 1933 as a World War I memorial. It hasn’t been used too much in recent years, mostly as a storage site for court records but also hosted a scene for the film American Hustle. The WWF ran there regularly from 1975 to 1983 before moving shows in the city to the Centrum, but did run the building for two tapings of Superstars in 1993.

In the WWWF territory, northern Maine was the “experimental” area where Vince Sr. liked to try things out before he brought them to New York or put them on television.

This is something I have mentioned on my podcast Greetings From Allentown. By “northern”, Bob means Bangor, ME which is a 4-5 hour drive northeast from Boston so very remote from the rest of the territory. That is also the area where Vince Sr. sent his son early in the 1970s to prove his mettle as a promoter. I do wish that Backlund had given a specific example of an experiment that was tried and either succeeded or failed.

I hadn’t grown up watching Bruno, but as I got to know him, I developed the utmost respect for him, both for the way he conducted himself in and out of the business, and for his commitment to training and keeping his body fit the natural and honest way.

There was a mutual respect between Bruno and Backlund, but they were kept apart at all times to avoid inevitable comparisons, which would be impossible odds for Bob. When Backlund became champion in 1978, Bruno was not wrestling regularly. Having both on the scene at the same time would result in Backlund being the #2 guy, like what happened with the Bruno/Larry angle.

The optics were obvious. Bruno and I were the only two men that Skaaland managed—and I was the only person, other than Bruno, that Skaaland deemed “worthy” of his time.

The biggest difference in wrestling history is Arnold Skaaland’s record as a manager in kayfabe, and what he actually contributed. Other than the occasional moment like the towel throw, he was not at ringside for most matches and Backlund cut his own promos. Yet his record reads as “manager of the world champion for 16+ years”. Given his struggles running the Knicks, Phil Jackson could be called the Arnold Skaaland of the NBA.

If everyone in the business worked the way [Mil] Mascaras worked, the business wouldn’t work.

Mascaras has a reputation for never jobbing to anything, and in fact wouldn’t even agree to an elimination in the 1997 Royal Rumble which is so ridiculous. He also isn’t much of a seller, and without that how can you do a babyface comeback?

This little gimmick also had the side benefit of upstaging Mascaras in the ring during his title match, which I think Vince Sr. enjoyed doing since Mascaras, in a total break with protocol, had refused do the honors for Graham. The angle was designed, in part, to give Mascaras a little taste of his own medicine.

Mascaras had a match with Superstar Billy Graham at MSG, and in a break from protocol the Grand Wizard was allowed to stay at ringside for the bout. Mascaras responded by running to the back and bringing Backlund to ringside to be his second. Bob would interfere in the match and get Mascaras disqualified and at the same time add heat to the feud with Graham.

With all this said, I don’t know why they kept using Mascaras after this point.

Next time: Winning the WWWF title at MSG, rumors of shenanigans by Graham and Bruno, and Backlund discusses towns where he had trouble getting over.

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